How to Attract and Engage with Younger Members (And Why It’s Important to Start Recruiting Millennials)



If your association hasn’t started yet, it’s time to start aggressively recruiting millennials and engaging with these young professionals.

But how and why?

If you’re at a loss for an answer, don’t feel bad. Association board members, executives, and marketers have been just as stumped over the years. And with good reason. Stereotypes about millennials abound: they’re entitled, obsessed with themselves, and lack loyalty. But these stereotypes have been proven to be largely debunked myths, and we’re here to tell you why it’s time to start paying attention to millennials.

Why should associations care about millennials?

Millennials — who include anyone born between 1981 and 1996 — currently make up the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. By 2030, they’ll account for 75 percent of the labour market.

To date, associations have largely been comprised of baby boomers — and while they make up a majority of memberships, they only account for roughly 25 percent of the U.S. workforce. The problem, as several associations have begun to notice, is that these older members are aging and causing association memberships to decrease. It’s a very real and key concern: associations are facing the unique challenge of not only building up but also maintaining their membership. To do this, younger professionals need to be actively recruited to replace retiring baby boomers. And so, now is the time to aggressively recruit millennials.

What millenials are looking for?

Associations need a compelling value proposition for millenials to join: what will these young professionals gain from paying dues, attending your events and engaging with your community?

To develop or redefine a compelling value proposition for millennials, it’s important to understand what motivates these young professionals. We know, for example, that millennials are attracted to organizations and brands that are trustworthy, transparent and come by way of a friend’s referral. We also know that millennials are interested in working with (not for) organizations that embrace technology, that aim to help society, and that foster personal and group relationships.

Millennials are beginning to enter their prime earning years and they crave meaningful work and community.

Incentivize and create meaningful purpose for millenial members (let millennials help drive your activities)

While associations should consider simple ideas — like targeting new graduates from college programs (by attending on-campus career fairs) or creating a new membership category for young professionals that offers differentiated benefits such as waiving initiation fees and providing free attendance to paid events — it’s also important for associations to find a role and purpose for millenials given what we know about their motivating factors.

Associations can, for example, highlight to millennials the impact of their advocacy work — doing so will illustrate an association’s influence and ability to make positive change in a respective industry and in society more broadly. More impactful information communicated to young professions could include quantitative news — hard data — on how many advocacy efforts, issues and letters were addressed because of your association’s influence.

Ultimately, millennials should be participating in associations’ advocacy efforts, and be welcomed to an association’s committee and governance bodies. Giving millennials real opportunities to get involved will make them feel valued while associations will gain real value from insightful young professionals.

Communicate opportunities when recruiting and onboarding

Associations should pay particular attention to how they engage with millenials about strategic planning, online community, and advocacy opportunities during the recruitment and onboarding process.

In a recent survey from the Association Innovation Benchmarking Report, 2018 a majority of associations identified an email welcome as essential to onboarding, but less than half identified an invitation to join their association’s online community or an invitation to volunteer. Associations should work to ensure that young professionals are encouraged to become involved early on in the membership and they should work to ensure that the contributions of millenials — whether it be volunteering on event programming, advocacy efforts, or online community moderation — are valued and appreciated by the association. This could be done through thank-you notes and annual award recognitions, for example.

Embrace digital engagement with millenials and focus on building online communities

Millennials have embraced digital media unlike any generation before. Eighty-five percent of millennials have a social media profile and 92 percent of them own a smartphone. However, the aforementioned survey, only 12 percent of associations identified digital marketing to be one of the most effective strategies to recruit new members. Somehow, associations are missing the mark when it comes to digital.

Yes, capturing the attention of millennials on social media can be challenging given the amount of online content. But know we that millennials use social media differently than other generational users — Facebook is used more as a news feed and for private communication rather than public posting, and Twitter is largely used on mobile devices and when millenials are bored. Associations can use this information and millennials desire for engagement to their advantage.

A majority of associations already use Facebook and Twitter but should consider strategies such as organic and sponsored posts, retargeting advertisements, advertisements targeting custom audiences (millennials in targeted industries), and an e-commerce store (allowing for event registration and purchasing memberships) embedded into Facebook as ways to bolster their performance on these platforms.

Surprisingly, almost half of surveyed associations do not offer their members an online community. It’s another glaring gap in how associations are missing an opportunity to engage with younger professionals. Associations can work towards countering this reality and building online communities by responding to online comments and requests from members, creating engaging campaigns with calls to action, posting content with consistent and captivating messaging and imagery, and posting content that advance value propositions over shameless self-promotion (that is, sharing content that will actually benefit, educate and give opportunities to younger professionals).

Associations shouldn’t underestimate the power of LinkedIn when seeking to recruit and engage with millennials

In the above mentioned survey of associations, only 21 percent identified LinkedIn advertising as an effective method to generate new members. And less than 70 percent of associations said they use the business and employment-oriented social media platform.

The lack of use is concerning given that LinkedIn has been identified as responsible for 46 percent of the social media traffic to company websites. A recent study noted that LinkedIn generates more conversions — 3 times higher — than Twitter. Moreover, LinkedIn has grown to over 500 million members, with half using the service monthly and up to 40 percent of those users accessing the platform daily. Of those users, 63 million are mobile users and, more importantly, 87 million are millennials who are beginning to grow their professional network and build their career as future decision makers — in fact, 11 million are already in decision-making positions. The platform provides an incredible opportunity to reach young professionals without delving into Instagram or Facebook.

Associations can embrace the power of LinkedIn by connecting with influencers, becoming active by creating and sharing posts (the ideal length is about 40 words or 248 characters) and by refining and recreating the audience-specific content that is generating engagement with your millennial audience.

Measure your association’s engagement with millenials

When budgets and resources are finite, it’s important to make decisions that are data driven and impactful. Associations should take the time to understand how and which members engage with their content: what events are being attended (and by who), which links are being clicked (and by who), which online forums are generating discussion (and by who). Associations should frequently reach out to their millennial members to ensure engagement strategies are working with younger demographics and to see if they help associations understand any gaps in what they’re looking for from association membership.

Many associations have taken steps to invest in assessment tools and techniques to understand whether or not content is reaching the right audience and how to improve conversion rates. Member login rates, A/B testing with newsletters, analyzing attendance and volunteer rates, donations by member segments, and member participation in a variety of member-only forums are important ways to track whether or not an association’s efforts are paying off. But far too many — nearly half — of surveyed associations identify a lack in how marketing efforts are analysed. It’s critical for associations to always have a goal in mind and to keep an eye on how efforts are progressing. With this insight, associations must be being sensitive enough to adapt and change course when certain approaches or key messages fail to resonate with intended audiences.

Final thoughts: don’t forget about benefits

Millenials are the future members, donors and supporters of associations. To target, recruit, welcome and engage these young professionals effectively, associations have to re-focus marketing and recruitment strategies and communications efforts. Indeed, associations have found success in recruiting millennials when their value proposition is refined, when their message is targeted, and when their voice is authentic.

Social media is the perfect medium to find out what millennials are thinking, and while the ultimate goal is for associations to produce shareable and feel-good content that entertains and leads to desired conversions, it’s important to remember that members — whether they’re young or old — expect more than social media posts from their association. They expect benefits from the membership. Belonging to an association can offer welcome swag, such as national park passes, handwritten notes or functional items such as clothing. These tokens of appreciation express gratitude and help build belonging. But more importantly, association membership should offer millennials opportunities — to develop new relationships, to gain experience through exclusive continuing education, and to enjoy the benefits and joy of being a professional within a certain industry.


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